More than 20 injured in turbulence on United Airlines flight from D.C.; plane diverted to Denver

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A United Airlines jetliner headed from Washington to Los Angeles was diverted to Denver on Tuesday night after it encountered turbulence, and more than 20 people were injured.

Rescue personnel indicated that most of the injuries were not severe. The twin engine Boeing 777 carried 255 passengers and a crew of 10.

Flight 967, which was scheduled to leave Dulles International Airport at 5:25 p.m., landed in Denver about 7:30 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.

A spokeswoman for Denver Health Medical Center said more than 20 people had been taken to Denver area hospitals.

"We've transported 21 patients to five area hospitals," said Dee Martinez, spokeswoman for Denver Health, a trauma center.

She said most of the injuries appeared to be "moderate head, neck and back injuries."

It appeared possible late Tuesday that others were also injured.

"At this time, paramedics are staying with passengers still" at the airport "to monitor and make sure everything is okay," she said.

A spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration said early Wednesday that he was told of as many as 30 injuries. He said the injured included both passengers and crew members.

In describing the incident, the FAA spokesman said the flight "encountered severe turbulence above Kansas."

It was not known what caused the turbulence or whether it was associated with thunderstorms, which are typical over the Plains states at this time of year.

Sally Covington, a spokeswoman for the Denver airport, said there was "some weather" in the Denver area earlier Tuesday. But she could not say whether it was associated with the turbulence encountered on the flight.

Weather reports for the Kansas-Missouri-Colorado area said there was thunderstorm activity there late Tuesday.

A spokesman for the airline said that after the plane "encountered severe turbulence," the crew "put safety first," and immediately diverted the flight to Denver "to get medical attention as quickly as possible for those who are injured."

Apart from the report from the spokeswoman for Denver Health, few details were available about the nature of the injuries suffered.

The spokeswoman said early Wednesday that Denver Health was treating seven women. She said most of them were still being evaluated, but it was likely that their conditions would be listed as fair or good.

In a story available online, a newspaper published in Boulder quoted a spokesman for the Denver fire department.

According to the account, Eric Tade, the fire spokesman, said that only one passenger was seriously injured.

"There are mostly walking injuries," he said.

The FAA spokesman said his information indicated that one of the injuries could be critical.

It was not clear whether passengers were wearing seatbelts at the time of the incident.

Officials said the plane was being inspected in Denver Tuesday night but there was no sign of external damage.

Based on available seating charts, it appeared that the wide-body plane was about two-thirds full.

It was not clear early Wednesday how many of the passengers and crew members were Washington-area residents.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company